Achieve Goals Using Imagination Instead of Sheer Will Power

Dennis Francis
5 min readJan 7, 2022
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Here’s a better way to achieve your goals without having to rely on discipline.

My wife and I take a few days off at the start of the year to plot our goals. It seems like every year around January I get emails from people who’re trying to sell me new goal setting systems or ways to become more disciplined. They offer solutions that require me to have superhuman will power.

Sure, I know how important discipline is to goal achievement. The problem is that humans don’t come in the same mental package. It’s like a person who has body type built for sprinting, trying to convince other body types that sprinting is the way to stay fit.

Of course, we all give will power a try for a while and eventually just give up out of sheer frustration. Or maybe you try to get immersed in a boot camp or intense training system to gain discipline in a particular skill or goal, but the entire process is so confusing that they get overwhelmed.

We tried working on self-discipline for years. After failing to develop this superpower, I found something even better for my mental framework. After doing some research in neuropsychology, I found a little strategy that worked very well. You’ll also have fun hitting your goals.

This is actually a 5-step strategy, but it’s so simple that just about anyone who is creative can do it. Really, it’s paint-by-numbers easy. So even if you had trouble hitting your goals in the past, you can succeed this time. And even if you are just figuring out your goals, no problem — because once you use this system, you’ll see that it really is quite easy to attain most goals.

So here’s how it works…

Try this mental test. It’s basically a quick way to find out if you prefer to use your imagination in images, audio, or tactile mode. The secret of this strategy is building your imagination instead of relying on ironclad will power.

So take this quick test. Sit in a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Imagine a lemon on a table before you. Pick up the lemon and bring it to your nose. Pick up a knife and cut the lemon (in your mind). Feel the spray of the pulp and juice (in your particular way of experiencing your inner world) to get the full effect.

Imagination Beats Willpower Every Time

The goal is to discover how you can experience your imagination most effectively. In order to create a successful mental rehearsal for success, you need to imagine your internal reality. According to neuropsychology studies, mental imagery directly influences our emotions.

Imagination is critical to our drive to success because it affects our emotions. We get good at things we love to do. Strong sensory images cause us to react. Of course, fear is also a big motivator in both positive and negative ways.

If we can use our imagination to keep us consistent, we’ll build the internal experiences necessary to get our brain to align our beliefs with our actions. Our internal representation of events triggers our emotions. By triggering the right emotions around particular actions, we can increase our interest in pursuing that action.

Being able to influence our desire to perform effectively and consistently through mental rehearsal can bolster our confidence. This also keeps us going through our development. Mental rehearsal keeps our process top of mind and helps to boost productivity. Now the goal has your attention every day; even when you’re not working on it.

Rehearsing for Ultimate Success

Mental practice refers to practicing without moving. Although you visualize performing the actions, your brain doesn’t know the difference. The growing body of evidence shows that even though mental practice occurs entirely in your mind, it is effective for learning new skills. You can improve performance and even strengthen your body.

A recent study showed that surgeons who practice mentally before surgery have improved technical ability and higher performance. A combination of mental and physical practice is the most effective method for learning and performing specific tasks in an operating room. Performing musicians and athletes practice this way as well.

Forget about trying to create a photo-realistic mental image. Most people create images in their minds. It takes practice to develop the ability to visualize. You can continue to improve this ability by playing with variations of the lemon test.

Conducting the physical version is the first step in the mental rehearsal strategy. Do it while thinking about the process in your primary mental sub-modalities. Take touch as an example. Write a description of your mental rehearsal from the vantage point of tactile sensations.

Put your experience into writing (or on the computer) and see how detailed you can make it. Write it down as you relive the experience. What was it like to hold a lemon in your hand? And what about the knife? Were you sprayed with lemon juice when you cut it? Could you describe the smell?

Layered Stimulus Response Training

LSRT (Layered Stimulus Response Training) was devised by a team of British researchers. Layers of imagery ability are developed in the training process. The process is incremental.

The best processes develop over time and in stages. With these five steps, LSRT practitioners could improve their training efficiency and motivation to stay consistent. The folks who practice increase their interest and enthusiasm.

The Five Steps to Effective Mental Rehearsal

One word of warning: don’t overthink this step. Seems like many people try to force visual rehearsals, but they never get past the first step because of analysis paralysis or feeling overwhelmed. Since you’ll be doing this daily, take it step by step.

However, the best way to do this step is to record an in-depth description of the process as you do it in real life. Take your time and put in the study of your process. All you have to do is get fantastic at the mental imagery. Easy, right?

1. Describe a piece of your process (not the entire process).

2. Evaluate, reflect, and rate the vividness from 1 to 5.

3. The image should be repeated so that the clearest, easiest to imagine parts of it are even more vivid.

4. Evaluate the image a second time.

5. You can repeat this process four more times, increasing the vividness of the image each time, or adding layers of detail. The mental and physical activity keeps many practitioners engaged, although they still need to practice in reality. These activities actually improve their performance.

The takeaway is this…

Mental rehearsal can improve your performance in a variety of fields. It doesn’t take long and gets easier the more you do it. Studies have proven the mind-body connection is real. Just as you can feel joy, fear or even desire from mental imagery, you can improve your enthusiasm, discipline and drive.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself and see what it can do for you. I think you’ll like your results! Don’t wait for another New Year to give mental rehearsal a try.

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Dennis Francis

Retired content marketing consultant. Author, artist, husband, father and owner of Still helping small business owners daily.